Sport on TV: Something stirs in the bushes but it isn't Tiger's bit of rough

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The Independent Online

It was as if a great weight had been lifted off the groaning shoulders of golf. At Augusta, in the heartland of the deeply conservative Deep South, a frisson of fresh air rustled through the magnolias. The game could breathe again: Gary Lineker was not anchoring the coverage of The Masters (BBC2, Thursday). No more mumbling, no um-ing and er-ing. The club even built a spanking new studio complex to celebrate.

Oh, and Tiger was back. Talk about a high-pressure environment to make your comeback after all those transgressions; the club's chairman, Billy Payne, soon got stuck in with some of that good ole southern moralising – it was more National Front than National, Augusta. And that breeze whispering in the leaves could have been the ghosts of generations of affronted racists and southern belles. Or it could have been the voice of Tiger's father, Earl, from beyond the grave.

The righteous were everywhere. This is one of those golf tournaments populated by unknown PGA Tour bible-bashers. There was even Amen Corner to contend with, for God's sake. And the old guys were dominating on the leaderboard with their old-fashioned values. Even the name "Couples" seemed designed to bait the Tiger.

But it seemed that God was on Tiger's side after all. On the 10th, 11th and 12th holes he drove the ball into thick forest, only to see it bounce harmlessly out on to the fairway each time. The Tiger was certainly getting a lot of help from the woods. There didn't seem to be any naked women hiding in the bushes despite the anxieties of his bodyguards. So it wasn't them looking after his balls.

It was reasonable to expect that Peter Alliss, that epitome of liberal thinking, would take this opportunity to get stuck into Tiger, and he did adopt an absurd "Ole Man River" accent in exclaiming: "Give me da driver!" But he was largely a model of restraint, even when he said: "He may be going through the patch where people treat him with affection." He's had quite enough affection lately, thank you ma'am.

Then Ken Brown mentioned Tiger's "faithful caddie" Steve Williams. It may have been the gentlest of barbs but probably not, nor when he concluded: "Tiger Woods will go home and sleep a happy man tonight." Well, he probably won't be going home for a while, but some sleep would certainly do him good.

* On The Cheryl Cole Factor (Fiver, Wednesday), we were informed that when Ashley Cole went to the 2006 World Cup, "there were 22 others in their relationship". As with Tiger, we are coming to terms with the indefatigable shenanigans of our sporting heroes, but even by the standards of John Terry and the Chelsea dressing-room, surely that's going too far.